I've been picking up windfall apples to haul down to the barn for a special treat each night for my horses. These are apples that we humans wouldn't take a second glance at in our satiety and fussiness, but our horses certainly don't mind a bruise, or a worm hole or slug trails over apple skin.
I've found our horses must be taught to eat and appreciate apples--if they have no experience with them, they will bypass them lying in the field and not give them a second look. There simply is not enough odor to make them interesting or appealing—that is, until they are cut in slices. Then they become irresistible and no apple is left alone from that point forward.
When I offer a whole apple to a young horse who has never tasted one before, they will sniff it, perhaps roll it on my hand a bit with their lips, but I've yet to have one simply bite in and try. If I take the time to cut the apple up, they'll pick up a section very gingerly, hold it on their tongue and nod their head up and down trying to decide as they taste and test it if they should drop it or chew it, and finally, as they really bite in and the sweetness pours over their tongue, they get this look in their eye that is at once surprised and
supremely pleased. The only parallel experience I've seen in humans is when you offer a five month old baby his first taste of ice cream and at first he tightens his lips against its coldness, but once you slip a little into his mouth, his face screws up a bit and then his eyes get big and sparkly and he rolls the taste around his tongue, savoring that sweet cold creaminess. His mouth immediately pops open for more.
It is the same with apples and horses. Once they have that first taste, they are our slaves forever in search of the next apple.
The veteran apple eaters can see me coming with my sweat shirt front pocket stuffed with apples-- a "pregnant" belly of fruit. They offer low nickers when I come up to their stalls and each horse has a different approach to their apple offering.
There is the "bite a little bit at a time" approach, which makes the apple last longer, and tends to be less messy in the long run. There is the "bite it in half" technique which leaves half the apple in your hand as they navigate the other half around their teeth, dripping and frothing sweet apple slobber. Lastly there is the greedy "take the whole thing at once" horse, which is the most challenging way to eat an apple, as it has to be moved back to the molars, and crunched, and then moved around the mouth to chew up the large pieces, and usually half the apple ends up falling to the ground and getting grimy, with all the foam that the juice and saliva create. No matter the technique used, the smell of an apple as it is being chewed by a horse is one of the best smells in the world. I can almost taste the sweetness too when I smell that smell.
What do we do when offered such a sublime gift from someone's hand? If it is something we have never experienced before, we possibly walk right by, not recognizing it as having value at all, missing the whole point and joy of experiencing what is being offered. How many wonderful opportunities are right under our noses, but we fail to notice, or bypass them because they don’t look like something appealing and we’re sure there is something else worth pursuing more?
What we may be ignoring has been offered up in love.
Perhaps if the giver cares enough to "teach" us to accept this gift of sweetness, by preparing it and making it irresistible to us, then we are overwhelmed with the magnitude of the generosity and are transformed in the simple act of receiving.
We must learn to take little bites, savoring each piece one at a time,making it last rather than greedily grabbing hold of the whole thing, struggling to control it, risking losing some in the process.
Either way, it is a gracious gift. How we receive it makes all the difference.
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